Monte Carlo simulation of portable XRF setup: Non-invasive determination of gold leaf thickness in indo-Portuguese panel paintings

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In this work, we present the combined use of in situ X ray Fluorescence spectroscopy and Monte Carlo simulation using PENELOPE code for the completely non-invasive determination of gold leaf thickness in artworks using lead white as mordant. The methodology used is based on the detection of different characteristic lines of Pb in the X ray fluorescence spectra, attenuated trough the gold leaves, and determining the thickness of gilding by comparing their attenuation. Firstly, this methodology was calibrated using model samples of simple stratigraphy, namely pure Au leafs of 1, 2 and 2.5 μm thickness covering a Pb infinitely thick sheet. The modelled X ray setup was then used to study the gilding thickness of three panel paintings belonging to the Museum of Christian Art in Old Goa (India): two paintings, from the 18th century, concerning to the same series but different themes: Our Lady of Sorrows (MoCA1) and Our Lady of Seven Sorrows (MoCA2), and a third painting entitled Monstrance (MoCA3), from the 17th century. These panel paintings were analyzed to understand the differences and similarities between techniques, according to the time/epoch and technique of its manufacture. The obtained values for MoCA2 tend to be slightly lower than for MoCA1, however, the t student test revealed that the differences were not statistically different (p = .37). Regarding the MoCA3 painting, the average thickness was determined to be statistically different (p < .001) and higher than for the other two paintings. These results emphasize the use of different techniques concerning gold leaf beating. In the 17th century painting it was verified the use of a thicker gold leaf while in the group of the 18th century gold leaf was thinner and manufactured with a similar thickness in both paintings. These results are in consonance with the accuracy of leaf beating technology, increasing with the experience acquired during the ages.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-6
Number of pages6
JournalSpectrochimica Acta - Part B Atomic Spectroscopy
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2019


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